• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

Canada Good Tidings In Bad Times


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Mission: Good tidings in bad times



MONTREAL - Everyone Micheline knows, or knew, has died. Her family, she says, is too far to drive on icy roads at Christmas.

So, come Christmas Day, she headed to the only place she really knows that keeps her from being totally isolated: the Old Brewery Mission.

The good food, warmth and compassion she got there compelled her to thank everyone in the room after she finished her meal of turkey and tourtière and before she departed for the cold streets again. She even thanked a reporter, who sadly had nothing to do with the good will and charitableness that was oozing out of the main dining hall of the Mission on a crisp Christmas Day.

It is the kind of experience that makes you realize that if Santa didn’t leave a new iPhone under the tree for you, you just might want to count your blessings anyway.

While most homes at this time of year have piles of glittering gifts stacked under a Christmas tree, the only pile at the shelter is in a corner of the room where the homeless stack their dusty belongings while they eat.

“It makes you realize how blessed you really are and that you must remember to be grateful,” said Anju Dhillon, a spokesperson for the Sikh community that sponsored and served Christmas lunch at the Mission on Tuesday.

There were 10 Sikh volunteers scurrying around the dining hall and trying to clear away one serving quickly before the next group of homeless men came in. Matthew Pearce, director-general of the Mission, said about 500 meals would be served at lunch, and more at supper.

Dhillon said the volunteers were happy to be part of a service “that was providing hope and warmth to people in need.” She said community dinners are quite common at Sikh temples and the religion teaches them to be charitable.

In addition to the traditional dinner, the tables were lined with trays of Indian sweets, like patisa, which were polished off by the men.

Despite the institutional feel of the dining hall, with its rows of long tables, there was chatter as the crowd ate and an exchange of Merry Christmas wishes.

Good tidings in bad times.

“This is way better than the alternative,” Pearce said. “It’s sad to see people so disconnected from family and friends, but they’re not living lives of isolation. This is not bleak and sad at all.”

While the Mission serves more than 300,000 meals a year, it is focused now on its transition program to help rebuild lives. Whereas 15 years ago the Mission building had five floors of dormitories for homeless men, there is now only one floor with a dormitory, while the others are used for programs to offer solutions to homelessness.

Soon to come is a new health clinic, Pearce said, that will address an important contributing factor of homelessness, which is often mental health or chronic health conditions.

Christian Breton had his first Christmas at the Mission on Tuesday and said it was very good.

“It’s not a bad atmosphere,” he said. “I would come back if I had to.”

But while Pearce is happy to feed anyone who needs it on Christmas, or any other day, his hope is that people like Breton don’t have to return.

“Our biggest goal is to get people off the streets.”